Title: Precious Evidence
Summary: "Charlie is eleven pounds of blonde, breathing proof of Peter's worst mistake." Future-fic.
Disclaimer: I do not pretend to own Fringe.
The doctor says it's colic, but Olivia doesn't believe it.
She paces the house for what feels like hours, holding a screaming baby to her shoulder, convinced that he knows.
The guilt is eating away at her, making it impossible for her to connect to this child. Charlie looks just like her, from the curve of his chin to the tip of his nose to the blonde hair on his head, but he does not belong to her.
He does not belong with her.
Walter and Peter arrive home to find the house a chaotic mess, and before either can even greet Olivia, she passes Charlie off to his father and grabs her car keys, hurrying out the door. Both men call after her, but it's no use. She's gone, and as her headlights back out of the driveway, Peter tries to calm the baby. He relaxes, rubbing a gentle hand up and down Charlie's back, whispering soothing words into his ear as he paces around the room.
"Shh, it's okay," he says. "Calm down, little Charlie."
After a few minutes, the boy relaxes, too, sagging against his father's body and slowly falling asleep.
"Do you think Olivia is all right?" Walter asks, still staring out the window after her.
Peter can't respond honestly, so he just shrugs his shoulders at his father and goes back to pacing with the baby.
Walter watches them sadly before retiring to his room.
"Einai kalytero anthropo apo ton patera toy."
Peter repeats the familiar phrase to his son as he leans into the bassinet to kiss him goodnight. Charlie's eyes are heavy, but it's as if he's trying to stay awake, reaching a tiny hand up into the air toward Peter. The older man takes that little hand in his own, rubbing his thumb over the backs of Charlie's fingers.
Since bringing the newborn back four months ago, Peter has been wracked with the ironic guilt of having accidentally repeated history. Crossing universes with Charlie had not been the plan, but circumstances had aligned almost too perfectly; before he knew it, Olivia was cradling the hours-old infant to her chest as they made their escape from a crumbling world.
He hasn't mastered fatherhood yet, but he wants to. The words of his mother remind him to try, and he very much wants to succeed. Despite the progress they've made in the last few years, Peter's relationship with Walter is still very complicated, and he doesn't want the same thing for himself and Charlie.
Peter hates what Walter did to him as a child. But he hates even more that he's given his own son the same agonizing heritage.
When Peter says, "Be a better man than your father," he means it.
Olivia can't help but wonder how she would have gotten along with The Other Peter.
Sometimes when she is alone with Charlie, she lays him down in front of her and tries to identify her characteristics. Despite her anxiety toward the boy, despite the glimmer constantly reminding her that he is not hers, Olivia can't help but admit that this child is very near perfection, a beautiful combination of Dunham and Bishop. At four months old, he's just discovering laughter, and his giggle is the most heartbreakingly amazing sound in any universe, she thinks.
But it wasn't meant for me.
Her mind constantly circles back to that night, looking down at her double as she writhed in pain. Shot in the chest, she used her dying breath to deliver her son and name him after her closest friend. It's what Olivia had already told herself she'd name her own son.
Olivia despises the circumstances that brought about Charlie's existence. Sitting here with the baby, she can't help but play What-If? Her mind traces back 25 years, and she wonders what would have happened if Walter had been able to cure his own son.
She imagines that maybe, later, she would have met this Peter. He would have been home and healthy, and she wouldn't have Cortexiphan streaming through her body. And they would be normal and happy and maybe they would have fallen in love and had a baby with this exact same toothless grin. And maybe the same thing would have happened over there, without all the lies, and maybe all four of them could have been quite content.
At the very least, she wouldn't be carrying this burden.
But then Peter comes home. He smiles and greets her with a kiss, then turns his attention to their son, lifting him up into his arms and tickling him.
"C'mon, can you laugh for Daddy?" he says excitedly, gasping and chuckling when he is rewarded with a big belly laugh from the baby. "Don't think I'll ever get tired of that," he tells Olivia.
Olivia looks at Peter—special, loving, her Peter—and her heart aches at the thought of having anyone but him.
(Which, in turn, just makes the sting of Baby Charlie's conception hurt all the more.)
Peter understands the sacrifices that Olivia is making.
Peter and Olivia had never even discussed having children of their own before they brought Charlie home with them, agreeing to tell people that the infant was theirs. And although Olivia was just as complicit as Peter in taking Charlie as their own, he knows it's different for her.
Charlie is eleven pounds of blonde, breathing proof of Peter's worst mistake.
The burden of caring for this precious evidence is something he sees weighing on Olivia every day. She doesn't relish caring for the child in the way that Peter is growing to. While Peter has learned how Charlie likes to be held (facing outward, the better to observe the room), how Charlie likes to be snuggled (chest to chest, little head tucked under big chin), and how Charlie likes to be woken up (with a big smile and a bottle waiting), Olivia is still awkward around the baby.
They are both uncomfortable with their newfound parenthood and what it means for their relationship. He writes off their infrequent lovemaking as exhaustion, but can't help the fear that it's a symptom of a deeper issue. Peter loves Charlie, that much is certain; in fact, he's surprised by just how much he loves his son, and how quickly it hit him. But he hates how much the situation is hurting Olivia, and how much he is asking of her.
Even though they split diaper changes and midnight feedings fifty-fifty, he feels he'll always owe her a great debt.
On a crisp autumn day, Peter and Olivia take Charlie for a walk. They look every bit the happy family—Father pushing the stroller as Mother walks beside them. They drink coffee on a bench at the park, watching their son take in the sights around him from his perch on Olivia's lap.
"Do you see the leaf, Charlie?" she says, handing him one that has fallen onto their bench. She laughs when he immediately attempts to put it in his mouth, gently taking it away from him and pointing to objects further away. "Do you see a tree?"
As Peter revels in the simple happiness of an uninterrupted day with his family, he thinks about everything that's been taken from the other side. He thinks of his biological father and mother, how they've now lost a son and a grandson. Their Olivia was lost into nothingness; no one will ever find her body, no one will ever provide them closure. They may never know that their grandchild lives on, healthy and beautiful, in the care of their stolen son.
He turns to Olivia and says, "Do you ever think about—" before cutting himself off and shaking the thought from his mind.
"Hmm?" she asks, tilting her head.
"Nothing." He catches the tip of her chin on his finger as he pulls her in for a kiss.
Peter knows that everything wonderful he has—this beautiful boy, this amazing woman—is stolen, and he lives in constant fear they will be repossessed.
She thinks about the grandmothers she can't give her son.
On the other side, Peter and Olivia have mothers; here, they are alone, with only Walter between the two of them. And while Walter is a wonderful, enthusiastic, thoroughly lovestruck grandfather, Olivia can't shake the memories she has from her time over there.
It had been amazing to have her mother back in that small way, and she knows how devastated Marilyn Dunham must be. She must have known of her daughter's pregnancy and been thrilled to have a grandchild on the way—sometimes, Olivia wonders if Charlie doesn't belong there, with his grandmother. When the sound of his screams and the glare of the glimmer get to be too much, she regrets the choice they made.
She tries to remember that there was no choice—it was take him with them or leave him to die along with his mother. In that moment, not only was he a helpless baby, but he was, of course, Peter's baby. And it was Olivia who carried him back to the other side. Once back, the only logical explanation for the infant was that he belonged to Olivia and Peter; even the most rigorous DNA test would corroborate this lie.
She speaks to Walter about the choice, once. For as much as the irony of their situation, the parallels to the Bishops' own past, weighs on Peter and Olivia, Walter does not dwell on it. But when he catches Olivia crying while giving Charlie a bath, he tries to comfort her.
"You made the right choice, Olivia. You made the only choice."
"Is that what you did? Made the only choice?" she asks, not taking her eyes or hands away from the slippery baby in the sink. It'd be so easy to give her heart to this little boy, who looks so much like her and, increasingly, so much like the man she loves. But the guilt holds her back like a shepherd's crook, constantly reminding her that he isn't hers to love.
"Maybe. But Charlie didn't have two parents that loved him over there. By the time you got to him, he was already an orphan. You are the best thing that ever happened to him."
"Thanks, Walter," she says. She is touched, but unconvinced, for now.
"Of course, my dear," he tells her. Brightening, he grabs a duck-hooded baby towel and holds out his arms. "Now, can I have a turn with my grandson?"
Charlie giggles and splashes Olivia, and she allows herself to enjoy the moment, even laughing back. "In a minute," she tells Walter, leaning down to kiss her son's fat little cheek.
One thing Charlie is giving him is acceptance.
As the days and months pass, Peter grows more and more attached to his son. He begins to understand Walter better, once he realizes how broken he would be if he lost Charlie. For the first time in his life, he can imagine just how dark those days were for his father, and can appreciate how much Walter loves him.
One night, Peter and Olivia come home to find Walter feeding the baby all alone. Olivia is briefly terror-stricken—the babysitter is under strict orders not to leave Charlie alone with his grandfather—but the worried parents soon realize that everyone is fine. In fact, Charlie has almost finished a jar of asparagus, a food he has never before tolerated.
"I mixed a little cinnamon in!" Walter announces triumphantly. "And look! He loves it!"
Peter offers to take over, but Walter waves him off. Instead, Olivia smiles mischievously and grabs Peter's hand, leading him up the stairs for a rare moment of privacy.
Twenty glorious minutes later, they're back downstairs fixing their own dinner, and as he watches Olivia multitask—stirring a pot with her right hand, balancing Charlie on her left hip—he thinks he might be the luckiest person in any universe.
She begins to feel pride—instead of resentment—when strangers tell her how beautiful her baby is.
Her fear gradually changes, although it is slow to dissipate. She becomes less afraid of their situation and more afraid of their situation changing, of someone from over there coming to take her son away. The guilt dissipates, too, as she and Peter grow to accept the choice they made and the life they've accidentally created for themselves.
Charlie says da-da first, but mama soon follows, on a Saturday afternoon while the three of them lounge around the house in pajamas. She gasps in delight when he reaches for her and calls her by name, and she scoops him up in her arms with relish, kissing all over his little face. When he grows tired of being smothered and reaches for his father, Peter takes him away, laughing.
"Say, 'Don't squeeze me so hard, Mama!'" Peter says.
It's only once they've all settled down, and the baby has gone back to babbling nonsense and playing with his toys, that Olivia realizes, for the first time in his life, Charlie isn't glimmering.
In the absence of terror, it is only her love that remains.